Despite the fact that I had a very busy couple of days and long nights, I ended up getting up this morning at about 5 am. Actually, I had one of those nights where I woke up at 3 and then never really got back to sleep. Well, I guess it makes sense. Today is my 40th birthday, and I hear old people don’t need as much sleep.
Anyway, I thought I’d write a sort of wrap-up post on my Conference for College Composition and Communication experience in Chicago. It was kind of a “short trip” for me this year; really, I was only at the conference on Thursday and Friday morning. There were a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that I didn’t want to spend the day of my birthday on the interstate. One of my grad students, who was attending the CCCCs for the first time, was trying to give me a good-natured hard time about this, and also the fact that I only went to two other panels (other than my own). “What’s the matter, don’t you want to learn anything new?” she asked. Well, learning something “new” is relative, especially given that I’ve been to this thing about ten times. And besides that, not all (maybe even most) of the learning takes place in the panels.
Here’s what I remember (with the help of some notes):
- I went to see a panel called “Writing Program Administration Database-Style: Knowledge Management and the End of Traditional Composition Studies,” which was a panel by the folks at Texas Tech about this database system they use there called either TOPIC or ICON– that seemed to be an interchangable title to me. This has been talked about on things like the WPA mailing list quite a bit already (and there’s a CHE article on this I have yet to read), but basically, this is a system where students submit all of their writing into this database where it is then commented on/graded by different instructors in the program. The Texas Tech folk claim it’s more efficient, it’s a better use of resources, it provides better student feedback, etc.
I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with “the machine,” at least not in the way that a lot of people in comp/rhet do. And I certainly don’t have a problem with a system where someone other than the instructor gives feedback or even a grade on student work. But I don’t see the system as being all that “efficient.” The answer to that question when I asked was (basically) that it was more efficient because the turn-around on student writing was greatly reduced; still, it seems to me that if you just told the instructors they need to do around an hour’s worth of grading every day (which is what they do with this system), you’d end up with an efficient system as well. I don’t think they had a very good answer to my other question of who “owns” the work in this system, and that’s significant because they claimed to have about 1,000,000 artifacts/writing samples from students. Someone asked where the “proof” was that, at the end of the day, this system provided better instruction, and they didn’t have a very good answer for that, either (though Becky Rickly did say that was coming at the Computers and Writing conference).
It’s all kind of a moot point for schools like EMU anyway; I mean, I can’t even get the IT people to let me run MySQL/PHP on an “official” server for God’s sake.
And, as Collin Brooke pointed out to me in the book exhibit area the next day, this probably isn’t the best way to give graduate assistants appropriate “on the job” training/experience, something that is an important part of the Ph.D. schooling process. Sure, TOPC/ICON gives all students experience grading/commenting on student papers and the like, but, as Collin pointed out, there’s more to classroom teaching than that. There is, for example, the important experience of being a teacher who has to himself or herself return papers to students which that teacher gave a bad grade. That’s an important interpersonal/teacherly moment. In TOPIC/ICON, it is taken out of the classroom teacher’s hands since grading comes from “the system.”
- The other panel I went to included a presentation from Bill Condon (“The Case against Correctness: Fairness, Reality, and World Englishes”) and one by a guy at Wisconsin-Stevens Point named M. Wade Mahon about ellocution (“The Other 18th-Century Elocutionists: Watts, Fordyce, Gentleman, Barrie, and the Role of Elocution in the Development of English Literature”). I don’t know what it says about me, but the elocution stuff was the reason why I went to this panel, and I thought it was very interesting. Other fun facts from this panel: it was held in this room that looked vaguely castle-like, and Peter Elbow found his way into the audience.
- I ran into Clancy “Culture Cat” Ratliff before my presentation because the stupid CCCC program had us talking about similar topics at the same time. We didn’t chat much, but she seemed nice and it’s always good to put a face with a blogger.
- I ran into many other miscellaeous colleagues and friends from the past, too many to list here. Hi again to everyone if you’re reading this now!
- My presentation went well, I think. I don’t want to say much more than that about it, other than to point out that I have already put the audio of my spiel and the PowerPoint slides up on the web. I was able to record it with a microphone I borrowed from Steve Benninghoff (thanks for the offer though, Jeff Ward!).
- I always like the book exhibit area, and I bought a few things that might come in handy later. Though I have to say I didn’t really spend much time at the textbook booths (and certainly no time at the McGraw-Hill booth!) I guess the thrill is gone for me. Another EMU grad student attending the CCCCs for the first time told Steve B. and I how great it was that she was getting all of these free books. But as I told her, she will reach a point in which she will wish the textbook publishers would just stop sending her all these damn books.
- Speaking of textbook publishers: one of the highlights of the conference for me was the Bedford/St. Martin’s party, which was in the main hall of the Field Museum. On the one hand, it was really cool for obvious reasons, and the not so obvious reason that they let folks wander through the exhibit areas (sans food and drink, of course). I got a chance to get a sort of shortened version of the Pompeii exhibit, which was beautiful though perhaps a little too sobering for a cocktail party. On the other hand, because it was at such a cool location, the party seemed more crowded than usual, so getting food and/or drink was a challenge.
- While at the party, I talked a while with John Walter and briefly with Cheryl Ball, and I urged both of them to pitch the idea of a Computers and Writing Conference in Las Vegas sometime soon to the “seven C’s” group. We’ll see if that idea takes hold.
- I also talked with a colleague who I will leave nameless who is also a textbook author about the sad state of my now dead textbook project. This person (and every other person I’ve talked to about this, frankly) thought it was pretty stupid of McGraw-Hill to not just let me publish what would be an otherwise unpublished book on the web. But it’s also clear to me after talking to this person (and others I know who have had been successful at textbook publishing/writing) that when all is said and done, I didn’t work hard enough on the project and I didn’t really realize how much work I was signing up for in the first place. Hey, live and learn, live and learn….
- I went to dinner at the Greek Islands with some colleagues from EMU (Linda and Cathy) and some folks from other places that one or all of us knew in some way (Susanmarie and Tom). We all ended up talking to some college kids at another table who were in town to go to a conference on photography and education– or something like that.
- After that, I met up with Bill Hart-Davidson and Steve B. for some “after hours” conference events at Miller’s Pub and then the bar at the Palmer House (where I actually chatted business with my favorite textbook company guy in the world, Nick Carbone, who is also my new inspiration for dieting), then for a bite to eat, and then home.
All in all, a good time. I always like the CCCCs, I always like Chicago, and I’m looking forward to next year in New York. But I have a suggestion to anyone on the planning committee, just in case you’re reading this: why not have this conference someplace warm in March for a change of pace? Miami? San Diego? Honolulu? Just a thought…